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The Year Without Summer

The Year Without Summer
Well before the invention of the telegraph, a destructive volcano erupted in 1815 on Indonesia’s Sumbawa island.  Although Mt. Tambora’s eruption was ten times more powerful than the eruption of Krakatoa (also in Indonesia) in 1883, the latter is more widely known because of more extensive communication. 

In Volcanoes: Past and Present, Edward Hull wrote, 

I propose to introduce some account of the most terrible outbursts of volcanic action that have taken place in modern times; namely, the eruption of the volcano of Krakatoa (a corruption of Rakata) in the strait of Sunda, between the islands of Sumatra and Java, in the year 1883.  The Malay Archipelago, of which this island once formed a member, is a region where volcanic action is constant, and where outbursts are exceptionally violent. (p. 201)

Many modern-day volcanologists consider the eruption of Mt. Tambora the most-destructive volcanic event ever recorded. After claiming the lives of thousands of people, spewing rock, ash, and pyroclastic flow caused drastic weather changes around the globe. Tsunamis also raced across the Java Sea.

Mt. Tambora’s larger eruptions ceased in mid-July, but clouds of ash, aerosols, and dust blocked sunlight. As a result, the year 1816 was referred to as the “year without a summer.”

Weather was impacted in destinations as far away as western Europe and North America’s eastern region. Europe and Great Britain suffered a deluge of rain in the summer of 1816. Eight weeks of rainy weather in Ireland led to a failed potato crop, which was followed by famine. China and Tibet also experienced weather changes and crop failures. North America experienced sporadic periods of heavy snow and frost between June and August. Crops failed and livestock perished.
Many believe that the destructive eruption of Mt. Tambora and the dramatic weather that followed is what inspired Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to write Frankenstein. While in Switzerland waiting for a storm to blow over, she passed the time with her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. They read ghost stories and competed to determine who could write the best horror story. 

In the introduction of Frankenstein, she wrote, “Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative” (p. xi). She adds, 

I thought but of a few pages—of a short tale; but (Bysshe) Shelley urged me to develope the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world.

More recently in 2004, a volcanologist and team of scientists uncovered a collapsed building and some remains beneath the pyroclastic deposits of Mt. Tambora. The volcano is still active today. Its last eruption, although small and non-explosive, was recorded in 1967. Similar reports were made in 2011. For more, explore, Mount Tambora.

By Regina Molaro

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